Trump tweets that tariffs are making the US “richer than ever before.” They’re not.

Either President Donald Trump isn’t sure how tariffs work or he’s being deliberately misleading about them.

The president fired off an early-morning tweet on Thursday declaring that billions of dollars are “pouring into the coffers of the United States” because of the tariffs his administration has put on some $250 billion in Chinese imports.

“If companies don’t want to pay Tariffs, build in the U.S.A.,” Trump wrote. “Otherwise, lets just make our Country richer than ever before!”

But that’s not really how tariffs work: The US may be generating some revenue from tariffs, but billions of dollars aren’t pouring in. Moreover, a lot of the money that is made off of tariffs comes from US consumers — not Chinese companies.

“If you think about who’s actually paying the tax, it’s like a sales tax. It’s like saying, ‘I put a sales tax on producers, isn’t this great we’re getting all this money?’ And then consumers say, ‘Wait, that’s from my wallet,’” said Michael Klein, a professor of international economic affairs at the Fletcher School at Tufts University and founder of the nonpartisan economics publication Econofact. “It’s just another example of taking where there’s a tiny germ of truth and blowing it up to the point where it’s absurd, for his own political purposes.”

On Thursday, Trump will travel to Buenos Aires for the G20 summit, where, among other agenda items, he’s expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a working dinner to discuss the countries’ relations, including trade. The sit-down is seen as high-stakes, given that the US has placed nearly $250 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods and China has levied retaliatory tariffs of its own. The escalating trade war poses a threat to both nations’ economies.

Tariffs don’t really work this way

The Trump administration has shown itself to be pretty into the idea of tariffs. It’s put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from multiple countries as well as on several billion dollars of Chinese goods. The way tariffs work is that the goods marked for tariffs face a border tax when they’re imported into the US.

As Vox’s Matt Yglesias recently explained, the US government with its initial rounds of China tariffs was careful to make sure the products it targeted had foreign-made alternatives:

When that happens, US purchasers switch to non-Chinese alternatives, and then consumers from outside the US tend to switch around and start buying the Chinese products. The overall impact is slightly less efficient global supply chains, some real pain to Chinese firms that need to find new customers, and a limited impact on American prices.

In other words, thus far, things have been relatively tame. A recent study from EconPol Europe found that Trump’s first round of tariffs have increased the prices US buyers pay for Chinese-made goods by 4.5 percent and decreased the prices received by Chinese sellers of US-bound goods by 20.5 percent.

That means that thus far, the tariffs have been mostly, but not entirely, paid for by China, but it’s not going great for anyone. And if Trump’s meeting with Xi doesn’t go well and the trade war escalates, the economic effects of tensions could worsen.

And it’s not going to be making the US significantly richer, because the more tariffs, the less incentive to import the goods affected, and therefore the less money being collected.

“If the point of tariffs is to reduce what you’re buying, that means you’re not going to make that much money,” Klein said.

And much of the money that does come in will be from Americans themselves. Tariffs are often passed on to consumers, therefore driving up prices and, ultimately, inflation.

Trump, who is personally very wealthy, has been rather cavalier about the potential for prices going up. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week in which he appeared to float the idea of putting tariffs on iPhones and laptops, he said, “I mean, I can make it 10 percent, and people could stand that very easily.”

“Made in the USA” isn’t as easy as Trump makes it out to be

President Trump often makes the case that many of the United States’ trade and economic problems could be solved if companies would just do all of their manufacturing here. He’s attacked General MotorsApple, and Harley-Davidson, among others, for having operations outside the US.

But “build in America” (which, by the way, many of Trump’s companies didn’t) isn’t as easy as it sounds. Supply chains are global, so even when Trump thinks he’s hitting back at China over, say, the iPhone, he’s missing the fact that the product is sourced from a lot of places, and its supply chain spans many countries.

In an Econofact analysis last year, Klein and Harvard political economist Marc Melitz estimated that each iPhone 7 imported to the US was recorded as a $225 import from China, but of that amount, only $5 represents work performed in China, largely assembly. The remaining $220 corresponds to other parts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

“It always sounds good when a president sounds tough on trade and issues protectionist policies,” Wayne Lam, a principal analyst at the information and analytics firm IHS Markit, told me when discussing the iPhone earlier this year. “We just don’t have the sheer workforce size nor skill set to be good at consumer electronics manufacturing.”

[Vox]

Trump Solicits More Thanks for “President T”

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Trump administration conceded in a frightening climate change report that climate change could soon become irreversible and catastrophic, with hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage forecasted by the end of the century. But President Donald Trump, himself, is thankful for fossil fuels—and wishes you would be, too.

“So great that oil prices are falling (thank you President T),” he tweeted Sunday morning, soliciting gratitude for his political agenda at the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. “Add that, which is like a big Tax Cut, to our other good Economic news. Inflation down (are you listening Fed)!”

Trump’s self regard appears to be instinctual, not ironic. When he was asked Thursday at Mar-a-Lago what he was thankful for, Trump briefly mentioned his family before turning to himself. “For having made a tremendous difference in this country,” he told reporters. “I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.

The economy and stock market are indeed up since Trump took office, as he frequently notes. But lower oil prices aren’t necessarily a fortuitous sign. One part of the reason is higher output from Saudi Arabia—a fact that Trump has explicitly linked to his decision to effectively exonerate Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the brutal killing and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. (“Thank you to Saudi Arabia, but let’s go lower!” he wrote in a tweet on Tuesday, calling falling prices “a big Tax Cut for America and the World.”) Another is high output in the U.S. and exemptions from U.S. sanctions on Iran, increasing supply.

But lower prices also reflect weaker demand, raising concerns about the global economy and the prospect of a recession on the horizon. Perhaps that is why Trump paired his Thanksgiving weekend praise for himself with a warning shot at the Federal Reserve, which has been steadily raising interest rates, putting the brakes on the formerly white-hot Trump economy.

[Vanity Fair]

Taxpayers charged $34 million to make Trump’s backup jets more ‘presidential’

With the announcement of a new Boeing contract to “update” Air Force Two, the Pentagon is slated to spend $34 million taxpayer dollars to make Donald Trump’s presidential jets fancier.

Defense One reported that over the past 14 months, the Defense Department has spent tens of millions of dollars contracting aircraft monolith Boeing to “refurbish” the interiors of two backup Air Force One planes that are frequently used by the vice president and cabinet officials.

The most recent contract, as first reported by the Washington Examiner, is for more than $16 million to create an “appearance more commensurate with [the] presidential section” of Air Force One on the twin-engine 757. According to the Pentagon, the latest Boeing contract will include “upgraded interior elements,” “refurbished interior elements” and “painting and cleaning.”

This isn’t the first of such contracts the DOD has taken out with Boeing. Defense One noted that on June 30, 2017, the Pentagon awarded the corporation nearly $18 million for “engineering support services for refurbishment of the interior” of the other backup Air Force One.

[Raw Story]

Trump Administration Mulls a Unilateral Tax Cut for the Rich

The Trump administration is considering bypassing Congress to grant a $100 billion tax cut mainly to the wealthy, a legally tenuous maneuver that would cut capital gains taxation and fulfill a long-held ambition of many investors and conservatives.

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, said in an interview on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina this month that his department was studying whether it could use its regulatory powers to allow Americans to account for inflation in determining capital gains tax liabilities. The Treasury Department could change the definition of “cost” for calculating capital gains, allowing taxpayers to adjust the initial value of an asset, such as a home or a share of stock, for inflation when it sells.

“If it can’t get done through a legislation process, we will look at what tools at Treasury we have to do it on our own and we’ll consider that,” Mr. Mnuchin said, emphasizing that he had not concluded whether the Treasury Department had the authority to act alone. “We are studying that internally, and we are also studying the economic costs and the impact on growth.”

Currently, capital gains taxes are determined by subtracting the original price of an asset from the price at which it was sold and taxing the difference, usually at 20 percent. If a high earner spent $100,000 on stock in 1980, then sold it for $1 million today, she would owe taxes on $900,000. But if her original purchase price was adjusted for inflation, it would be about $300,000, reducing her taxable “gain” to $700,000. That would save the investor $40,000.

The move would face a near-certain court challenge. It could also reinforce a liberal critique of Republican tax policy at a time when Republicans are struggling to sell middle-class voters on the benefits of the tax cuts that President Trump signed into law late last year.

“At a time when the deficit is out of control, wages are flat and the wealthiest are doing better than ever, to give the top 1 percent another advantage is an outrage and shows the Republicans’ true colors,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Furthermore, Mr. Mnuchin thinks he can do it on his own, but everyone knows this must be done by legislation.”

Capital gains taxes are overwhelmingly paid by high earners, and they were untouched in the $1.5 trillion tax law that Mr. Trump signed last year. Independent analyses suggest that more than 97 percent of the benefits of indexing capital gains for inflation would go to the top 10 percent of income earners in America. Nearly two-thirds of the benefits would go to the super wealthy — the top 0.1 percent of American income earners.

Making the change by fiat would be a bold use of executive power — one that President George Bush’s administration considered and rejected in 1992, after concluding that the Treasury Department did not have the power to make the change on its own. Larry Kudlow, the chairman of the National Economic Council, has long advocated it.

Conservative advocates for the plan say that even if it is challenged in court, it could still goose the economy by unleashing a wave of asset sales. “No matter what the courts do, you’ll get the main economic benefit the day, the month after Treasury does this,” said Ryan Ellis, a tax lobbyist in Washington and former tax policy director at Americans for Tax Reform.

Liberal tax economists see little benefit in it beyond another boon to the already rich.

“It would just be a very generous addition to the tax cuts they’ve already handed to the very wealthy,” said Alexandra Thornton, senior director of tax policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, “and it would play into the hands of their tax advisers, who would be well positioned to take advantage of the loopholes that were opened by it.”

The decades-long push to change the taxation of investment income has spurred a legal debate over the original meaning of the word “cost” in the Revenue Act of 1918, and over the authority of the Treasury Department to interpret the word in regulations.

“I think we ought to look at not penalizing Americans for inflation,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the Republican chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who said he would like to see the Treasury Department make the change through regulation.

Mr. Bush’s Treasury Department determined that redefining “cost” by regulatory fiat would be illegal — a conclusion buttressed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which found that “cost” means the price that was paid for something.

But conservatives have disputed this conclusion. Pushing Mr. Trump to make the change, Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has cited a 2002 Supreme Court decision in a case between Verizon Communications and the Federal Communications Commission that said regulators have leeway in defining “cost” to make the case that the Treasury Department can act alone.

“This would be in terms of its economic impact over the next several years, and long term, similar in size as the last tax cut,” Mr. Norquist said, suggesting that making the change would raise revenue for the government by creating new economic efficiencies and faster growth. “I think it’s going to happen and it’s going to be huge.”

He and others said last year’s tax cut would also pay for itself, but despite strong economic growth, corporate tax receipts have plunged and the deficit has soared.

According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, indexing capital gains to inflation would reduce government revenues by $102 billion over a decade, with 86 percent of the benefits going to the top 1 percent. A July report from the Congressional Research Service said that the additional debt incurred by indexing capital gains to inflation would most likely offset any stimulus that the smaller tax burden provided to the economy.

“It is unlikely, however, that a significant, or any, effect on economic growth would occur from a stand-alone indexing proposal,” the report said.

Michael Graetz, a tax law professor at Columbia University who worked in the Treasury Department’s tax policy office when the department determined that taxing capital gains could not be changed by regulation, said he still thought that the decision to change the law should fall to Congress.

He pointed out that the department would have to make decisions about what types of assets would be indexed and that it would essentially be picking winners and losers.

“There’s certainly no legal authority for Treasury to choose what assets to treat this way,” Mr. Graetz said.

Two law professors, Daniel J. Hemel of the University of Chicago and David Kamin of New York University, wrote in a paper last month that states, charities and other entities could sue the Treasury Department if it tried to make the change. Mr. Kamin said in an interview that the change would create opportunities for gaming the tax code, in part because other parts of the code, such as interest payments, would still be unadjusted for inflation.

A framework for a second round of tax cuts, released by the Ways and Means Committee last week, did not address taxation of capital gains. It is highly unlikely that Congress will pass another tax bill this year because of the slim Republican majority in the Senate.

Democratic senators have written to Mr. Mnuchin, urging him to stand down.

“Treasury does not have the unilateral authority to take our tax code and expose it to widespread gamesmanship,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. “Indexing capital gains under this regime is a boondoggle for the rich, plain and simple.”

A Treasury Department official wrote Mr. Wyden a two-paragraph reply this month. “We appreciate your taking the time to express the thoughts outlined in the letter,” it read. “We will take them under advisement.”

[The New York Times]

Trump: Tariffs are ‘the greatest,’ president says ahead of EU chief’s visit

“Tariffs are the greatest!” Trump said on Twitter, following up with what he called a simple choice: “Either a country which has treated the United States unfairly on Trade negotiates a fair deal, or it gets hit with Tariffs.” He added, “It’s as simple as that — and everybody’s talking!”

His tweet came one day before EU President Jean-Claude Juncker is scheduled to visit the White House for discussions on trade and other matters. Trump has imposed tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum and threatened new ones on cars. Juncker will reportedly focus on arguing that the EU is Washington’s friend, not foe.

[Marketwatch]

Trump threatens Harley-Davidson: If it moves operations overseas, ‘they will be taxed like never before!’

President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday that Harley-Davidsonwill be “taxed like never before” if the motorcycle maker moves production overseas. He claimed that the iconic U.S. company was using increased trade tensions as an excuse to justify planned changes in manufacturing.

“A Harley-Davidson should never be built in another country-never! Their employees and customers are already very angry at them. If they move, watch, it will be the beginning of the end – they surrendered, they quit! The Aura will be gone and they will be taxed like never before!” Trump said in a tweet.

Harley said Monday it was moving some production overseas due to increased costs from the EU’s retaliatory tariffs against the Trump administration’s duties on steel and aluminum. No production will be moving to Europe as a result of the tariffs, according to the company. Harley’s overseas manufacturing plants are in Brazil, India, Australia and Thailand.

[CNBC]

Kudlow: ‘Don’t blame Trump’ for the trade conflicts he created

Top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow contended Wednesday that President Donald Trump should not be held responsible for mounting trade conflicts with American allies, as the president gets set to face world leaders angered by tariffs imposed by the U.S.

“Don’t blame Trump. Blame the nations that have broken away” from fair trade practices, he told reporters. The global trade system “is broken and President Trump is trying to fix it. And that’s the key point,” Kudlow added.

The National Economic Council director downplayed concerns about tensions with key American allies ahead of Trump’s trip to Canada at the end of the week for a summit with leaders of the Group of 7 economies. Trump recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from countries including the other six members — Canada, FranceGermanyItalyJapan and the United Kingdom — prompting retaliatory measures against the U.S.

The developments have prompted concerns about a trade war that could damage the U.S. economy or cause frayed relations with allies. The tariffs have sparked backlash not only abroad but at home, where Trump is trying to stop an effort from free trade Republicans to push back against the measures. Both U.S. lawmakers and foreign officials have questioned Trump’s national security justification for imposing the tariffs.

Ahead of Trump’s G-7 meetings, Kudlow, a former CNBC senior contributor, downplayed the prospect of a “trade war” with allies — calling the tensions “disputes that need to be solved.” He said he hopes the summit, where Trump will have bilateral talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, will lead to substantive discussions on trade.

Last week, the Trump administration said it would not exempt Canada, Mexico and the European Union from tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The decision came as the U.S., Canada and Mexico have faltered in efforts to strike a revised North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump has long pledged to crack down on what he calls unfair trade practices and bad trade deals. He contends foreign countries had punished U.S. companies and stolen jobs away from American workers — one component of the appeal that carried him to the White House. Ultimately, he wants to increase U.S. exports and reduce trade deficits.

While numerous Republicans who support Trump — and Democrats who typically do not — have backed tough responses to alleged trade abuses by China, the tariffs on the key American allies brought the harshest response yet to Trump’s trade actions both domestically and abroad. Trudeau reportedly said he wanted to have “frank” talks with Trump during the G-7 meetings.

Asked whether Trump had damaged relations with Canada, Kudlow answered that he was not worried about temporary tensions.

“I have no doubt the United States and Canada will remain firm friends and allies,” Kudlow said.

The White House economic advisor also denied reports that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pushed for a tariff exemption for Canada during a meeting this week. Kudlow said both he and the Treasury secretary attended the meeting and did not say a word.

The U.S. has also sought help from allies as it tries to reach a deal to reduce trade deficits with China and stop alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property by Chinese companies. The U.S. has reached neither a broad deal with China to avoid potentially damaging tariffs, nor an agreement to revive Chinese telecommunications company ZTE, according to Kudlow.

He said he believes the rest of the world agrees with Trump about Chinese trade practices.

[CNBC]

Trump’s phone call with Macron described as ‘terrible’

A call about trade and migration between US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron soured last week after Macron candidly criticized Trump’s policies, two sources familiar with the call told CNN.

“Just bad. It was terrible,” one source told CNN. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that.”

A short White House readout of last Thursday’s call said the conversation was focused on trade and immigration.

“Both leaders discussed the migration problem in Libya, and timelines to solve it. President Trump underscored the need to rebalance trade with Europe,” the readout states.

The call came the same day the United States announced a unilateral decision to slap steel and aluminum tariffs on American allies, including Mexico, Canada, and the European Union.

In a statement issued by the Elysee Palace ahead of the call, Macron said he “regrets the US decision to confirm tariffs in steel and aluminum.”

“This decision is not only illegal, it is a mistake on many points. It is a mistake because it responds to a worldwide unbalance that exists in the worst ways through fragmentations and economic nationalism,” the statement continued, with Macron adding that “if these kind of things impacted our relations, it would have been the case since day one because he has decided to leave the Paris (climate) agreement.”

“I prefer to say things directly and not through the press; and I will tell him what I told you, which are my convictions that he knows already,” he said in the statement.

Thursday’s strained call is particularly notable because Macron is arguably the European leader to whom Trump is closest. In an interview with the BBC in January, Macron said he had a “very direct relationship” with his US counterpart.

“I’m always extremely direct and frank. He is. Sometimes I manage to convince him, and sometimes I fail,” Macron said at the time.

Trump can expect a similar call from British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday, sources tell CNN. It’s not her style to be combative, but one source said May is expected to be direct in her criticisms and that Trump could expect a tough conversation.

[CNN]

Fact-checking Trump’s Nashville speech

The good news about President Donald Trump’s speech in Nashville last night was that he didn’t mention Roseanne Barr, which could have made that controversy much, much worse. The bad news? Try all of the false, misleading and dishonest claims he made.

“[There’s] never been an administration — and even some of our enemies are admitting it — that has done what we’ve done in the first year and a half. Think of it”

The tax law has been Trump’s only major legislative achievement, and he ranks behind other past presidents in bills signed into law.

“We’ve created 3.3 million new jobs since Election Day. If we would have said that before the election — I’m going to create 3.3 million new jobs — would never have [survived the] onslaught from fake news. Wouldn’t have accepted it, said no way you can do that”

While there have indeed been 3.3 million jobs created in the 18 months since Election Day 2016 (Nov. 2016-April 2018), there were 3.9 million jobs created in the 18 months before Election Day (May 2015-Oct. 2016) — when Trump was criticizing the state of the U.S. economy.

“Wages for the first time in many years are finally going up”

That is false; wages also increased during the final years of Obama’s presidency, per PolitiFact.

“[Nancy Pelosi] loves MS-13”

Pelosi was objecting to Trump calling undocumented immigrants “animals”; the White House says he was referring to MS-13 in his “animals” remarks. Pelosi never said she loved MS-13.

“So how do you like the fact they had people infiltrating our campaign? Can you imagine? Can you imagine?”

On Fox News last night, Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., said the FBI’s use of an informant for the 2016 Trump campaign was appropriate (see below for more).

“Mexico, I don’t want to cause a problem. But in the end, Mexico’s going to pay for the wall”

Mexico once again said it wasn’t paying for Trump’s wall. Here’s Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto: “President @realDonaldTrump: NO. Mexico will NEVER pay for a wall. Not now, not ever. Sincerely, Mexico (all of us).”

“We passed largest tax cuts and reform in American history”

By either inflation-adjusted dollars or as a percentage of GDP, the tax legislation Trump signed into law last year ranks well below other tax laws, including those under Reagan or even Obama.

For an even more thorough account on Trump’s claims from last night, check out the feed from the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale.

[NBC News]

Media

Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad

The steel and aluminum industries in China will soon be slapped with tariffs up to $50 billion by President Donald Trump. On Thursday, after China announced their intentions to retaliate against the United States with $50 billion in tariffs of their own against U.S. goods, Trump warned that his administration would respond with another set of tariffs, this time targeting $100 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Exempt from the proposed tariffs against China, however, is the clothing manufacturing industry.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

The clearest example of this ethical line-blurring comes from early in the Trump presidency, when Ivanka dined with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Trump family’s resort in West Palm Beach on the same day China approved three new trademarks for Ivanka’s company.

[ThinkProgress]

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